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Spring has sprung with playoff feel

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings

Patrik Berglund and the rest of the St. Louis Blues, made life miserable for Red Wings like Justin Abdelkader and Henrik Zetterberg on Sunday at Joe Louis Arena. (Photo by Dave Reginek)

DETROIT – Opening Day in baseball and the Stanley Cup playoffs have long been synonymous with the first unofficial day of spring around Michigan.

While the playoffs don’t officially begin for another three weeks, for all intents and purposes, they started Sunday for the Red Wings and St. Louis Blues.

There weren’t a lot of scoring chances Sunday, but the Blues took advantage of one of the ones they did get when winger Chris Porter poked a loose puck underneath goalie Jimmy Howard for the game’s lone goal.

With the loss, the Red Wings fall one-point behind the Blues, who leaped into seventh-place in the Western Conference standings with 44 points. Detroit is in eighth with 43 points and nine games left in the regular-season.

“I thought our guys played hard enough. We had a few chances, but they got one goal in,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “You know what? The message in their goal was simply we had the puck. We went to shoot it in, it hit their guy in the leg and ended up changing direction and in a scrum in front of our net. That’s playoff hockey.”

The Wings definitely had chances, but were 0-for-3 on power-play chances, and Blues goalie Brian Elliott stopped a breakaway by Gustav Nyquist who tried to hit the top left corner.

“They played really tight 5-on-5 and on the PK,” captain Henrik Zetterberg said. “They really kept everything inside and were tight in front of their goalie and all of the rebounds they were there right a way. But it wasn’t a surprise for me. You’re used to the games that you play against them and this is how it is. It’s an ugly goal that wins it and they got one tonight.”

Elliott earned his first shutout of the season, stopping 28 shots. But the 27-year-old goalie also got plenty of help from the Blues’ defense, as they blocked 13 shots, including six shots from the point by Red Wings’ defensemen.

It was really tight, felt a little bit like a playoff game almost, not a lot of room out there, didn't feel like there were a lot of chances either way,” said defenseman Niklas Kronwall, who had three shot attempts blocked by the Blues. “I thought we had some good opportunities there in the third, but their goalie came up with some good saves.”

SEASON DEBUT: Forward Riley Sheahan, who was called up from Grand Rapids on Saturday was inserted into Sunday’s lineup, replacing Jordin Tootoo, who was a healthy scratch.

It was Sheahan’s second career game with the Red Wings and first this season.

Sheahan logged 6:47 minutes of ice-time on a line with center Cory Emmerton and forward Patrick Eaves. But Babcock indicted that the Wings’ first-round pick from the 2010 NHL draft, will be returned to the Griffins on Monday.

“He’s going to be a player for us, but he’s got to get quicker and he’s got to have more pace to his game,” Babcock said. “When you’re ready and you come here, you show you’re ready. When you’re not quite, then you’re going to get caught.”

THREE STARS: 3, Chris Porter, STL (1 goal); 2, Jimmy Howard, DET (24 saves, L); 1, Brian Elliott, STL, (28 saves, W).

Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose

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